Purple Cabbage Slaw

This Purple Cabbage Slaw recipe makes a purple cabbage and carrot salad that will be your go-to mayo-free coleslaw for all your hot weather barbecues. It’s in its happy place piled high atop a pulled chicken or pulled pork sandwich or served alongside all the burgers and hot dogs you can eat.

But if you’re not all about stuffing your face with delicious food, you can also get a little smarter by learning the difference between purple cabbage and red cabbage and how you too can have fun with science. Or just hit that jump to recipe button, grab your chef’s knife, and let’s make coleslaw!

bowl of purple cabbage slaw with shredded carrot, cilantro, and serving tongs in bright sunlight.
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Ingredients

Cabbage

Cabbage is a member of the Brassicaceae family which includes other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There are several cabbage varieties, but the most common type is green cabbage, key to the best sauerkraut and corned beef sandwich on rye bread. Napa cabbage is the green cabbage to reach for when you’re making potstickers. And savoy cabbage with its wrinkled leaves is a sturdy cabbage for when you’re making my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage rolls.

 

Why is red cabbage purple?

The truth is that red cabbage and purple cabbage are exactly the same thing. The color of the cabbage changes depending on the pH of the soil it’s grown in.

That chameleon-like color is because of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are the same compounds that make spicy pickled onions pink, give mashed purple sweet potatoes a unique place on your Thanksgiving table, or turn purple Empress gin cocktails into a rainbow from blue to pink.

glass of blue cabbage water next to baking soda, glass of purple cabbage water and purple cabbage, and red cabbage water next to vinegar.

Red cabbage is a great home pH indicator. If you have an elementary school age kid, try this:

  1. Peel a few outer leaves off your purple cabbage and put them in a small pot. Cover the leaves with water and heat to boiling for 10 to 15 minutes until the water turns that lovely purple color you see in the middle glass.
  2. Let the cabbage water cool, discard the leaves, and pour some into three clear glasses.
  3. Have your kid pour a bit of vinegar (an acid) into one glass and see it turn red. Sprinkle a bit of baking powder (a base) into another and watch it turn blue-green.
  4. Now pick a few other things from the kitchen – lemon juice is great – and have them guess what color it will be!

But why isn’t it called purple cabbage? Who knows! Tradition?

Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.

Recipe variations and substitutions

  • Feel free to use any of the other types of cabbage in this recipe.
  • Shred some crisp apples into the slaw.
  • Make an Asian coleslaw with a bit of sesame oil, sub in rice vinegar for the vinegar, add Thai basil, and serve it with shrimp and pork meatballs or a Peking duck meatloaf.

Recipe tips and tricks

The key step in this purple cabbage slaw recipe is salting, rinsing, and drying the cabbage. You can read about this in Kenji Lopez-Alt’s classic coleslaw, but the skinny is that salting pulls out the water in the raw cabbage both to keep the cabbage crisp and prevent your purple slaw from becoming soupy.

Step by step

Step 1: Prepare the cabbage for shredding. There’s no right or wrong, but this is the best way I’ve found:

Cut the bottom stem off the cabbage (Panel #1, below), stand it on the stem end, and cut to split the cabbage in half (Panel #2). Cut each half in half again through the stem (Panel #3), and then cut out the stem (Panel #4).

four panels showing steps in trimming and preparing the purple cabbage from trimming the bottom, chopping the cabbage head in half then quarters, and cutting out the stem.

Step 2: Cut your purple cabbage into thin shreds with a sharp knife, mandoline, or use your food processor attachment.

three whole quarters of a purple cabbage, shredded cabbage, and a chef's knife on a purple cutting board.

Step 3: Put the shredded purple cabbage in a bowl, add the salt, and toss to coat. You can add the shredded carrots here, but it’s not as important to salt and remove the water from the carrots as it is the cabbage.

shredded purple cabbage in a metal bowl.

Step 4: Put the cabbage in a strainer and let drain for 15 to 30 minutes. Discard any water that drips off, or use it to make purple rice!

You can re-use that bowl you used to toss the cabbage and salt. Just give it a rinse to get rid of any excess salt.

purple cabbage in a sieve draining over a metal bowl.

Step 5: After about 15 to 30 minutes, rinse the salt off the cabbage and dry it in a salad spinner or, alternatively, with some paper towels.

Step 6: Meanwhile, make the dressing for your purple cabbage slaw. Combine all of the ingredients in a clean glass jar and shake well to emulsify.

open glass jam jar with yellow dressing.

Step 7: Add the now-dry cabbage, shredded carrots, and chopped cilantro to a bowl, and add only enough of the coleslaw dressing to coat the cabbage well. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, as desired.

hand holding tongs grabbing purple cabbage slaw from a white ceramic bowl.

What to serve with purple cabbage slaw

BBQ pulled chicken sandwich with shredded chicken and purple cabbage slaw on a bun on a plate.

Recipe FAQs

What’s the difference between a cabbage slaw and coleslaw?

Cabbage slaws and coleslaws are the same thing. Coleslaw is simply a slaw made with cabbage. The Venn diagram of slaws has other slaws including those made from the other cruciferous vegetables mentioned above.

Do I have to refrigerate this purple cabbage slaw?

Yes, while a coleslaw without mayo is the best option for an outside barbecue, it still contains perishable ingredients that can spoil if left at room temperature for too long.

How long does a no-mayo coleslaw last?

A no-mayo coleslaw, also known as a vinegar-based coleslaw, will last longer than the traditional mayo-based coleslaw. It’s best the same day it’s made, but it will eventually lose its crunch and can last for about 5 to 7 days in the fridge.

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.

Recipe

Purple Cabbage Slaw

5 from 1 vote
Category: Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Unspecified
Diet: Vegetarian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Salting time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories: 94kcal
This Purple Cabbage Slaw recipe makes a purple cabbage and carrot salad that will be your go-to mayo-free coleslaw for all your hot weather barbecues. It's in its happy place piled high atop a pulled chicken or pulled pork sandwich or served alongside all the burgers and hot dogs you can eat.
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Ingredients

Cabbage preparation

  • 1 small head purple cabbage sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt for salting, plus more as desired

No mayo coleslaw dressing

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper plus more as desired

Purple cabbage slaw

  • 1 medium carrot shredded
  • 1 green onion sliced thinly, optional
  • ¼ cup cilantro chopped

Instructions

  • Discard the outer leaves of the purple cabbage, quarter it, cut out the stem, and then slice into thin shreds.
    1 small head purple cabbage
  • Put the shredded purple cabbage in a bowl, add one tablespoon of salt, and toss to coat.
    1 tablespoon salt
  • Put the cabbage in a strainer and let drain for 15 to 30 minutes. Discard any water that drips off, or use it to make purple rice!
  • After about 15 to 30 minutes, rinse the cabbage in the sink to remove the salt and dry it in a salad spinner or, alternatively, with some paper towels.
  • Add all of the ingredients for the coleslaw dressing in a clean glass jar and shake hard to emulsify.
    ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup cider or white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Add the now-dry cabbage, shredded carrots, green onion if you are using it, and chopped cilantro to a bowl, and add only enough of the coleslaw dressing to coat the cabbage well. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, as desired.
    1 medium carrot, 1 green onion, ¼ cup cilantro

Notes

The key step in this purple cabbage slaw recipe is salting, rinsing, and drying the cabbage. You can read about this in Kenji Lopez-Alt’s classic coleslaw, but the skinny is that salting pulls out the water in the raw cabbage both to keep the cabbage crisp and prevent your purple slaw from becoming soupy.
You can add the shredded carrots to the salting step, but it’s not as important to salt and remove the water from the carrots as it is the cabbage.
You can re-use that bowl you used to toss the sliced purple cabbage and salt. Just give it a rinse to get rid of any excess salt.
In a no mayo coleslaw dressing, the ratio of oil to vinegar is much less than for dressing salad greens. That gives your coleslaw a brighter flavor.

Nutrition

Calories: 94kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 265mg | Potassium: 212mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 2115IU | Vitamin C: 41mg | Calcium: 39mg | Iron: 1mg
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